[November 2, 2017] Humility has a way of becoming a self-reinforcing trait for good leaders who desire to improve themselves. In contrast, many leaders neither have a clue about having humility nor do they understand its benefits to everyone … or even what it is. That may be a shocking revelation but as we go about being leaders, ignorance of it will eventually knock us upside the head.
What exactly is humility? This is the question leaders often ask of themselves. It means simply not regarding ourselves as more important than other folks, especially those who have achieved less than us. It also implies judging ourselves, not in comparison to others, but with regards to our own abilities and responsibilities.
Not long ago a senior U.S. military officer was found to be having an affair with a married woman (the wife of an enlisted man). Of course, the situation was investigated and he was removed from military service. It was revealed in the investigation that the officer saw himself as above the law, that he considered himself as too important to be questioned, and that if things did go wrong it would not be his fault.
“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” – Saint Augustine, early North African Christian theologian
St. Augustine also wrote about how humility was the basis for all other virtues. Thus it was the recognition that we are who we are because of others before us (the past) and with us (the present). Real leadership means that we can be humble while also recognizing it gives the strength to be confident yet self-effacing, strong yet modest, smart yet wise.
Reinforcing humility may be the answer but humility in senior leadership positions can be fraught with contradictions. To get into high leadership positions requires a person to know we can do a good job under difficult circumstances. True, the challenge here is to strive to better oneself as a leader but also be humble at the same time. That is why St. Augustine was so adamant about humility being the foundation of humanity.
We should all remember that any acclamation we receive is earned by the efforts and sacrifices of those who follow us. Thus, it is our responsibility as leaders to cultivate such humility.1
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